|Ramones - Raw|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 28 September 2004|
The makers of this concert and backstage visual document, which skips all around The Ramones’ pioneering punk rock career, were not kidding when they titled it “Ramones Raw.” That’s because it’s a collection of on-the-road footage, performance scenes and miscellaneous clips of almost endless variety that are seemingly thrown together at random, without much help at all from an editor. (You know who editors are. Those are the folks that magically create coherence out of chaos.) While it’s refreshing to watch a visual biography that steers clear of adhering to that smooth and predictable VH-1 “Behind the Music” approach, which is all too prevalent in music features today, it would have been far more enjoyable if this project had at least followed some sort of a chronological order. Instead, it’s a little bit like sitting with someone who is showing you his or her vacation photos – right after they’ve shuffled them all to hell like so many playing cards. Call it potluck television.
“Ramones Raw” is the brainchild of Ramones’ drummer Marky Ramone, who became the group’s voluntary in-house video biographer right around the time he purchased his personal video camera. To the film’s credit, it’s awfully hard to get any closer to a band than this, since one of The Ramones’ very members was also its primary creator. One imagines that The Ramones were far more relaxed and accommodating with one of their own behind the lens than they might have been with an outsider. Additionally, it’s doubtful that Marky Ramone originally even intended to turn his amateur home movies into what is now a major DVD release. Thus his fellow Ramones here never appear hung up about trying to sound or look any smarter than usual, just for posterity’s sake. For better or worse, then, “Raw” is a glorified home movie.
Such an insider’s view reveals such rarely seen occurrences as the band leaving (escaping?) their hotel in Rio by van and being chased by rabid fans a far distance along their escape route. This scene is shot in black and white to look like an old movie and even contains the kind of musical soundtrack you might expect to hear backing an actual old film. Elsewhere, the group is caught on camera discussing the aftermath of a vehicular accident in Italy. Too bad the camera wasn’t rolling when the actual collision happened, though. The Ramones always came off as an accident waiting to happen, and such footage would offer undeniable proof of that propensity. Oh, well …
There are other situations here where The Ramones come off just like typical tourists, not just a quartet of partying rock stars on the road. For instance, one gets a glimpse of these adult teenagers standing outside the gates of a Melbourne, Australia zoo. They appear here exactly like giddy school kids on a field trip. On a more serious note, the group is also captured at the Berlin Wall, just before that ugly nation divider was about to be torn down forever.
About three-quarters of the way through the DVD, however, this haphazard work temporarily switches to a more predictable rock documentary format. This series of more polished segments includes a snippet from the “Funky Man” video, which is performed by Dee Dee Ramone’s urban alter ego, Dee Dee King. This footage foreshadows another Dee Dee Ramone clip taken from an MTV broadcast where it is announced that he’s leaving the group. Another brief insight peeks in on producer Ed Stasium with the band in the studio. The viewer is then thrown from that studio setting to a gold record presentation in Brazil in 1994. Other standard press-worthy inclusions follow, including shots of the band at the Hollywood Rock Walk, the presentation of the 2001 VMA Lifetime Achievement Award by Bono of U2 and a local news report taken from the day when the street “Joey Ramone Place” was announced somewhere near CBGB's in New York. All of these are confusing insertions -- even though they’re newsworthy -- since they lack the personal touch of Marky’s handmade filmed material. It would have been much better for continuity’s sake if the filmmakers had chosen one perspective and just stuck with it, instead of changing directions so severely midway through.
This DVD’s performance pieces are priceless and far and away the best thing about “Ramones Raw,” even though it’s often difficult to pinpoint just where and when some of these concert moments originally took place. Concert shots include an appearance on the “The Uncle Floyd Show” in 1979, where the band blows through “I Wanna Be Sedated,” as well as a couple of shots from a festival in Finland, which includes a run-through of “Pinhead.” There’s another tour retrospective that takes place in Argentina where the group plays one of its signature songs, “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.” Weirdest of all, however, is a clip showing the band playing “Take It as It Comes” with The Doors’ Robby Kreiger, of all people! Just what Kreiger has/had to do with these New York punks is anybody’s guess. But then again, Ray Manzarek (keyboardist for The Doors) produced some of the best work by the seminal L.A. punk rock band X, so maybe there’s more of a generational punk rock connection than one might have guessed upon first look.
Due to the dizzying sequencing of this DVD, it’s highly recommended that viewers watch it with the audio commentary (from Johny Ramone, Marky Ramone and director John Cafiero) on, at least the first time. It’s not that these participants are natural masters of rhetoric, but at least they give the project some semblance of order simply by talking about the visuals as they appear on screen. Or you can just blindly guess as you go. Your choice, babe.
It feels more than a little strange to make a distinction between this project’s bonus material and its main course, so to speak, since the feature material is comprised of little more than a series of odds and ends – which is usually what passes for bonus material on other more typical releases. But this, after all, is not a “typical” rock music DVD. Nevertheless, much of this bonus material is well worth watching, especially the live concert footage segment. Shot in Rome, Italy in 1980, this live 30-plus-minute set features the original classic Ramones lineup charging through brief and beautiful outbursts of innocent punk rock. It’s also really the best way to experience The Ramones – live, that is. Although some of the graphic introductions of the song names, which appear at the bottom of the screen, are incorrect, such errors don’t really matter. Instead, it’s just wonderful to bask in the glory of watching The Ramones in their element. Wow, a whole concert DVD of The Ramones would really be nice (hint hint)!
Another “bonus” section is titled “TV Appearances.” Under this heading, one can watch band members goofing off on “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast,” comparing hairstyles with Howard Stern, appearing on the cheesy “The Uncle Floyd Show” (again) and being Gilbert Gottfried’s straight men during scenes from USA’s “Up All Night.” There’s also a clip from MTV’s “120 Minutes,” which takes place right around the release of “Adios Amigos,” where Joey talks about the impending breakup of the fabled group.
If these extra scenes aren’t enough, there is also a healthy helping of deleted scenes to skim through. Most of these were deleted for good reason, since they mainly show the group horsing around. It’s mostly insubstantial stuff. However, the clip where Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder inducts The Ramones into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 really should have been included in the main section, since this celebrates a proud moment in Ramones history.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Ramones’ first appearance at New York’s CBGB’s, so there are a lot of various Ramones-related projects hitting the marketplace right about now. If The Ramones are still a new entity to you, “Ramones Raw” is not a good place to begin your initial investigation. But if you already have a knowledgeable understanding of The Ramones’ hallowed place in rock ‘n’ roll history, this set offers a few behind-the-scenes peeks into the lives of the leather-jacketed men that created this legend in a raw and unpolished format.